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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 382

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters is an investigative history by filmmaker Frances Stonor Saunders, of the CIA's program to finance a propaganda campaign against Soviet Communism in the cultural sphere beginning in the immediate post-WWII period. To this end, the agency laundered money through philanthropic organizations such as the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the last headed by Michael Josselson.

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This effort involved support for concerts, art exhibitions, as well as ballet and theater companies, intended to suggest that the United States placed as high a premium on cultural values as did the European nations which America hoped to retain as political allies throughout the Cold War. African American performers, in particular, were often sent on foreign tours to deflect criticism from evidence of racial injustice in the United States.

The CIA's influence was perhaps clearest in the case of the numerous literary and political publications it financed, including "Encounter," "Paris Review," "Partisan Review," and "The New Leader," among the most influential. Indeed, it was not unusual to find agency employees, such as Peter Matthiessen, in their offices; a founder of the "Paris Review," he later admitted to having been a CIA case officer.

Among the names to be found in "Encounter," for example, were some of the most significant in the intellectual life of the period, but also reliable exponents of the democratic or left anti-Stalinism favored by the CIA: George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, and Isiah Berlin. However, the magazine also featured a number of equally distinguished figures, including W.H. Auden, Jorge Borges, Robert Lowell, Vladimir Nabokov, and others, whose work can't be easily reduced to political sloganeering. What is clear is that certain subjects, such as American racism, were mentioned only sotto voce, in its pages, and the imperialistic adventures of the United States, such as the overthrow of the governments of Iran and Guatemala, not at all.

The CIA's clandestine involvement in the realm of culture was finally revealed in the late 1960s, a few years before the Agency's acknowledgment of much more serious crimes in the course of the Church Committee hearings. In both, the absence of transparency represented a tragically flawed vision of governance in a constitutional democracy.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1955

In 1966-1967, RampartsThe New York Times, and The Saturday Evening Post exposed and documented how, in the two post-World War II decades, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been supporting and using a network of cultural organizations for pro-American propaganda. With the exception of Africa and the Communist bloc, it had been a worldwide project. The sensation, however, had little lasting resonance. In her first book, Frances Stonor Saunders deals, in effect, with the question: Who still cares?

Saunders does care, and The Cultural Cold War intimates that the reader should, too. She writes: “The claim that the CIA’s substantial financial investment came with no strings attached—has yet to be seriously challenged.” The author set out to “undermine this myth of altruism” regarding culture subventions. Her text is a call to look back on history and learn the lessons and pitfalls of unchallenged covert actions.

In twenty-six evocatively titled chapters, each introduced with a pithy motto, Saunders presents her investigation into the cultural scene and related political institutions of the Cold War era. Her approach is both diachronic and synchronic. Beginning in Berlin during the winter of 1947, The Cultural Cold War  moves to...

(The entire section contains 2337 words.)

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